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The first five years of Twitter

The first five years of Twitter

Twitter is five years old.

In those few years it has attracted celebrities, politicians and sport stars as well gaining a prominent role in the debate over the future of news. It was named "word of the year" in 2009 and more recently, it played an arguably significant role during events in the Arab World.

The story

The Los Angeles Times blog looked back at the early days, when in March 2006 Jack Dorsey began writing the code for a program that would let his office mates send each other messages with status updates. Originally the project was called "Stat.us" - the article reported - soon to become Twitter.

As the LA Times wrote, "Twitter started as a sort of hobby project inside a separate company -- Odeo -- that built ways to share audio and video over the Web. The company was founded by Noah Glass and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams -- and they gave Dorsey the free time to follow an idea he'd been brewing for years".

The first tweet was sent on March 21, 2006.

As MediaBistro's All Twitter pointed out, Twitter's second milestone was SXSW. On March 11, 2007, Twitter won a SXSW award in the "Blog" category, and Jack Dorsey famously thanked them in 140 characters. Its third milestone really propelled it into the mainstream: Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) challenged (and beat) CNN (@CNN) to reach a million followers. During April 2009, the friendly rivalry between the celebrity and the news outlet was covered extensively, and Twitter became an almost-household-name.

Growth rapidly increased in the later years, All Twitter noted. It took three years, two months, and one day from its creation five years ago for the billionth tweet to be sent. Now, it takes just one week for users to tweet a billion tweets. And nearly half a million people are signing up for Twitter each day. Over the past month, the average number of new accounts, per day, was 460,000 - and on March 12th, 572,000 new accounts were created.

To see the most-followed users, click here.

The Twitter revolution: how Twitter has changed media habits

Even if it started as a social tool to share status updates within friends and colleagues, Twitter stood out for its power in political processes and news events.
Celebrating the birthday, Daniel Bennett, on Frontline Club (via OWNI) celebrated also the so called "Twitter revolution" in breaking news. "Nearly two years ago, the Twitter revolution headline for post-election protests in both Moldova and Iran spread widely", he wrote, pointing out that Twitter's way of connecting people, facilitating the spread of news and information, enables individuals to combat censorship and undermine the stranglehold of state-controlled media.

Twitter shows its power during emergencies, like the Chinese earthquake in 2008 and the Mumbai terrorist attacks in November 2008, when for the first time attention was paid to the growing phenomenon as journalists and reporters started to use it for communicating breaking news.

Bennett said that the Mumbai hashtag (#Mumbai), which collated tweets about the incident, quickly became inundated and CNN estimated that 80 tweets were being sent every second.

But the event that certainly conducted Twitter to higher notoriety was the Iran election crisis in June 2009.

And last but not least, events in Egypt and Tunisia have seen Twitter play a role. NPR's Andy Carvin, whose covered the events extensively, discussed the role of social media tools for journalists during Egypt uprising in a Poynter interview, here.

While praising Twitter's role, it's of course important to remember that the journalists' ability to select and editing news remains fundamental, as the incredible flood of information available not always is trustworthy.

The future

The question now is: where will Twitter be in five years' time?, asked the Guardian. "It is still struggling to find profitability, although multiple revenue streams such as selling its tweet stream to Google and Microsoft, offering "promoted tweets" and "promoted trends" and its "Earlybird" promotions meant it generated $45m (£27.7m) of revenues last year".

On the journalism side, a Twitter revolution in the practices of reporters covering breaking news has significant implications for journalism itself, Bennett noted: it places pressure on the traditional news agency wires and increases the speed of the news cycle.

Sources: Guardian,(1), (2), (3), LA Times, All Twitter (1), (2), Frontline Club, WSJ's Digits, Poynter
Image is from Pixar's "For the birds" film



Federica Cherubini


2011-03-23 13:22

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